- Immunotherapy has helped John Ryan live better quality of life
- Genetic analysis has allowed faster and more precise cancer treatment
- These treatments are making a slow progress in the cancer world
Scientists are slowly progressing towards less toxic tools to fight cancer. This can be illustrated through the example of one John Ryan, who is considered to be one of the miracles to emerge from the Johns Hopkins cancer unit in Baltimore. John is a retired military nuclear reactor specialist, who received an immunotherapy treatment for lung cancer. The alternative cancer treatment - which has so far been highly effective in a minority of patients - saved John's life. John is now set to celebrate his 74th birthday in July. His battle with cancer is all about the promises and failures of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is an industry in which the pharmaceutical industry has been investing heavily. Back in June 2013, John was told that he had only 18 months to live. But thanks to immunotherapy, he has been able to attend graduations of three of his children. He will also be taking part in the wedding of one of his daughters in summer.
Immunotherapy is considered to be one of the two major drugs against cancer. Chemotherapy is the most popular and widely used treatment for cancer. For decades, chemotherapy is being used to kill tumors and cancer cells. However, chemotherapy is so toxic that along with targeting cancer cells, it also attacks a few healthy cells. This can have some major side effects and leave the patient in a dismal state. A person experiences pain, hair loss, weight loss, diarrhea, nausea and weakness after going through chemotherapy.
John went through all this in 2013, and his tumor still persisted, reports AFP. He was exhausted with chemo, when a last-ditch clinical trial using nivolumab (brand name Opdivo) was done on him later 2013. After intravenous delivery of the drug and 104 injections later, his tumor disappeared rapidly. The main side effect of this treatment was itching. It was just recently that a mysterious mass appeared in his right lung. This was treated with the help of radiation. With the help of immunotherapy, his quality of life has improved greatly.
Immunotherapy is an alternative cancer treatment which works in a way that it trains the body's natural defenses to detect and kill cancer cells - which can otherwise adapt and hide. Experts have mostly been disappointed with new and innovative approaches to fighting cancer. However, immunotherapy has been considered as a turning point, a less toxic treatment for fighting cancer.
Currently, there are as many as 30 immunotherapy drugs being developed, along with 800 clinical trials underway.
Still, there are relatively few patients who have shown recovery with the help of immunotherapy. Doctors have so far been intrigued by the unusually long remissions through immunotherapy in a small number of patients.
Around 10 to 15% of the cancer patients make for immunotherapy success stories. Normal remissions have been reported to last for one and a half year or two years. However, the clinical trials in the recent years have shaken up the cancer world. They have shown that it was possible to treat cancer patients in a better way. It was also possible to cure some of the most difficult forms of cancer, without having to resort to some of the most toxic techniques.
One great example is that of prostate cancer here. Scientists have found that regular screenings have in fact resulted in too many tumors that would have never spread, and were being treated in operations.
Another study on breast cancer revealed that surgery and hormone therapy were enough to keep the cancer at bay in thousands of women. It was found that chemotherapy was given unnecessarily and this has surprised the entire cancer community.
Other emerging alternative cancer treatments include genetic analysis, which has become more common for tumors. Genetic analysis has allowed faster and more precise treatment for patients. Experts are of the opinion that there are now more tools to identify if a cancer patients needs to be treated or not, through surgery, treatment, radiotherapy, immunotherapy or genetic analysis.
However, there are some cancers which remain on the margin of these new treatments. Cancers like melanoma, leukemia, breast, cervical, lung, colon and rectal cancer can be treated with the help of immunotherapy and other personalized treatments. These treatments are making a slow, not entirely affirmative, progress for cancer.